Dec 18, 2013
This is the kind of movie people love to love, because is it about "love". But it is not about any kind of actual human love that one can recognize. And not because the main relationship is between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and Samantha, his Operating System (Scarlett Johansson: best thing in the movie, and you never even get to see her).
It's because the way Her is written makes love look and feel like an endless Hallmark card, an endless sappy, hipsterish, saccharine pop song. As far as love and relationships are concerned, it has the depth of an inflatable kiddie pool, though it seems to think itself profound. Maybe I am an old, but if this is what young people think love is like, an endless litany of interminable kvetching, as a gaping chasm of "I need" and "I miss" and "I want", we are in deep doodoo. No wonder people in this movie can't relate to other people. They think love is all about themselves.
If you want to find out about true love, go see Amour. Her is for sissies.
Despite its lovely look and enticing premise, Her is a bore. Many are the reasons:
Theodore falls in love with his computer's operating system, Samantha, which is designed to be intuitive. She is super efficient and sexy and cool. I thought she was a bit too eager, but then again she is an OS. I wish mine was as perky. Joaquin Phoenix, in the role of a sensitive schlub, has to act all by himself, cry all by himself and be a milquetoast all by himself. As always, he delivers. It is to Phoenix's credit that he is rather transfixing even when Theodore's only trait is sensitivity. There is no trace of edginess, irony, mischief, ego, self-destruction (always so sexy) or any flaws, except clinging to an infinite wellspring of grief and ennui. 100% sensitivity in a guy is not only hard to believe, it is boring. Theodore works writing virtual personal letters for a sort of personalized Hallmark cards of the future. If he were a corporate lawyer who is sensitive on the side, that would be interesting. But there is no contrast to him. He just aches and mopes.
I have complained elsewhere about this newfangled stereotype in American films; that of the hyper-sensitive male (there is one in every Pixar movie, and many a Mumblecore). These guys are the male embodiment of wallflowers: shy, afraid of girls, too emotionally frail to function. Excuse me if I burp. Meanwhile, with the exception of Samantha, who is perfect because she aims to please, the rest of the women in the movie are just plain strange. Theodore's ex-wife, played mostly silently by Rooney Mara, who deserves better, seems to be a slightly bipolar, difficult girl. We never really understand why they divorced, since she appears mostly in silent flashback montages, like a Saint Valentine's day catalog of Kodak relationship moments: laughing on the beach, having a pillow fight, etc. Since we never really get to experience what it was like to be married to her, his grieving seems a bit over the top. There is a fun dating sequence with Olivia Wilde (a lovely actress with great comic chops) but she turns into a shrew from hell in no time and for no clear reason. Amy Adams, almost unrecognizable in a crazy hairdo, plays an old flame and now good friend. When she and Phoenix are in the same room it feels like they are in different continents. I still don't understand what their deal was all about. Apparently, in the male wallflower genre women are so mysterious as to be incomprehensible, which is another load of crock.
Writer/director Spike Jonze has lovely visual ideas, and he creates a Los Angeles of the future with actual locations and by shooting in Shanghai (where he could not get a blue sky for love or money). He comes up with some arresting, intense moments.
A love scene between Phoenix and Samantha that borders on the ridiculous, is actually bracing, sexy and erotic. When was the last time you could say that about a scene in an American film? But the rest of the movie is most decidedly not. Jonze's vision of love is immature and self-centered, as I assume is that of all those self-proclaimed sensitive guys in movies, who, like Theodore, can't seem to grow a pair. What risk is this guy taking by comfortably falling in love with a machine? Try that with a human if you want real bravery. The sketchy writing never pays off the questions the premise raises about our codependency with virtual tools. It doesn't even know how to resolve the conundrum of Theo's and Samantha's relationship and does so in an arbitrary cop out.